Sexual and aggressive interactions in a visible burrow system with provisioned burrows

Physiol Behav. 2001 Jan;72(1-2):245-54. doi: 10.1016/s0031-9384(00)00403-0.


The visible burrow system (VBS) is a habitat providing burrows and an open area for mixed-set rat colonies. Provisioning of food and water in the burrows makes it unnecessary for potentially defensive animals to leave the burrows to eat/drink on the surface, and enables evaluation of new types of agonistic interactions that may emerge when this necessity is removed. In such colonies, subordinate males showed high magnitude tunnel guarding behavior, occupying a tunnel opening onto the surface and confronting the dominant. Dominants, in response, made lunges into the tunnels, but quickly retreated without gaining entry, apparently stopped by contact with the defender's vibrissae. Dominants also made and continued to make lateral attacks to the wall adjacent to the tunnels guarded by subordinates, although these were useless in terms of affording contact with the subordinate. Dominant-female agonistic interactions were more frequent than those of dominants and subordinates. These were largely initiated by the male, and involved female defensive behavior. Nonetheless, females, unlike subordinates, failed to show tunnel guarding and continued to utilize the surface freely. They also spent more time in the vicinity of the dominant over days of colony formation. This apparent paradox may reflect that females were seldom wounded, and that the initial site of male contact with females was the female's anogenital area, findings suggesting that interactions of males and females often reflect male sexual advances, countered by female defenses that effectively protect nonestrus females from mounting and copulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Social Dominance
  • Social Environment*
  • Time Factors